Hooker Jamie George is convinced that the British and Irish Lions can translate an ironclad belief that they can overpower New Zealand into reality when the two sides meet in Auckland on Saturday.
The first Test of the three-match series represents a daunting prospect for the tourists given the All Blacks, who are back-to-back world champions, have not lost at Eden Park since 1994.
But after steady progress in their tour matches, which has seen the Lions win four of six games, George believes Warren Gatland’s outfit are on course to replicate their 1971 series victory in New Zealand.
“Do we all believe we can win? 100 per cent,” said George. “Everyone in the squad is very confident we can succeed.
“The way the boys played [against the Chiefs] on Tuesday night was inspiring for me and we have to replicate the amount of energy and physicality they brought to the game. If we do that we will be in good stead on Saturday.
“I think the performances we’ve put in show we are progressing towards being the No1 team in the world. In order to beat the All Blacks that’s what you’ve got to be.”
George has been named in the Lions starting XV for the first Test despite not being a regular for England and so far in his international career performing the role of understudy.
The 26-year-old holds the record for the number of caps – 17 – without a Test start, and George intends to use the tour to show England head coach Eddie Jones than he can dislodge incumbent Dylan Hartley and claim the No2 jersey.
“I haven’t thought too much about the England stuff since I’ve been here but I’d be hoping to put in a good enough performance to show that I am able to do stuff from the start,” added George.
“Yes it’s a message but the stuff that Dylan’s doing is fantastic as well. They’ve just come off the back of a 2-0 series win in Argentina.
“When I was first selected for the squad it was at the back of my mind but I’ve started a lot of big games – European finals, Premiership finals – so I’m comfortable starting games.”
Sniping between the two camps has been a feature of the series so far and Gatland continued the war of words by suggesting the All Blacks may live to regret dropping winger Julian Savea for the first Test.
Savea has scored 46 tries in 53 Tests for the All Blacks and despite New Zealand thrashing Samoa 78-0 in their sole warm-up clash prior to the series, Gatland believes his opponents have erred.
“I’m not sure looking at their bench that it is as strong as it has been in the past,” said Gatland.
“We were surprised by [Ryan] Crotty being selected at 13 and Savea, who has been a constant for them, being replaced. I know how good [Rieko] Ioane is but this is a big game for everyone.”